UNITED NATIONS – The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have said they support a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, according to a unanimous statement circulated during a conference aimed at strengthening nonproliferation.
Without mentioning Israel by name, the group voiced support for the “full implementation” of a 1995 resolution intended to free the Middle East from nuclear arms.
“We are committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East, and we support all ongoing efforts to this end,” the statement read. “We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction.”
The statement also stressed “serious concern” over the Iranian nuclear program and urged all countries to sign and adhere the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Three countries are not party to the NPT: India, Pakistan and Israel, which is widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal.
“We urge those states that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon states and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms,” the five countries wrote.
Coming on the third day of the month-long NPT review conference, the statement spoke to competing interests: The US came into the conference pushing for tough measures against Iran, while the Arab states, in speeches, have increasingly focused on Israel’s presumed nuclear arms and their desire for Israel to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
However, even while signing the statement – along with China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom – US officials stressed that current circumstances in the Middle East would not allow for the immediate implementation of the 1995 resolution.
“Making progress on a Middle East free of WMD will become all the more difficult if Iran continues to raise concerns in the region and beyond about the nature of its nuclear program,” a US official said.
The US, one of the original sponsors of the 1995 resolution, said comprehensive regional peace was key to a WMD-free zone.
“It is unlikely that this will occur before Iran demonstrates that it has come back into compliance with its NPT and IAEA safeguards obligations,” a US official said.
Ahead of the conference, Egypt – which chairs the 118-member group of non-aligned nations – circulated a working paper calling for the implementation of the 1995 resolution. The proposal also called for a conference to take place next year, with Israel’s participation, focused on a treaty to eliminate nuclear arms in the region.
Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdel Aziz told the conference on Wednesday that the “accession of Israel as a non-nuclear-weapon state” was key to strengthening the NPT, which was currently being “undermined by double standards.”
Other Arab states echoed his sentiment.
Kuwait’s ambassador to the UN, Mansour al-Otaibi, said Israel’s refusal to sign on to the NPT “impedes the implementation and the universality” of the treaty. He called on weapons states to withhold from Israel direct or indirect supplies that could be used to enhance its nuclear production. Further, he said, the IAEA should suspend its cooperation with Israel in the nuclear field until Israel accedes to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
“This unique Israeli situation is a cause for concern, standing in the way of rendering the Middle East a nuclear-free zone,” he said.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari criticized explicit support by some nuclear states for Israeli military arsenals.
“We are inquiring here whether it’s high time to specify a time frame for the implementation of that resolution, or whether we will link it with the hope of achieving the universality of the treaty?”
He said the conference must address certain questions, particularly whether parties to the NPT have decided to hold Israel accountable, “given its overt refusal to apply any resolution calling upon it to accede to the NPT.”
On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that given the lack of comprehensive regional peace, the conditions for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East “do not yet exist.”
Speaking to reporters in New York, she said the US was prepared “to support practical measures for moving toward that objective.” For the US, that has meant coming into the conference pushing hard against Iran’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile, in a television interview on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would “definitely continue” its nuclear program.
Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, the Iranian
leader said he was not concerned about a possible Israeli military
“They’re not a factor. In our defense doctrine, we don’t even count them,” he said.
“They’re finished,” he said, adding, “The Zionist regime can’t even
manage Gaza. Do they want to get into a conflict with Iran?”
He also warned that sanctions would sever any diplomatic channels with the US.
“This is not something that by threatening Iran or putting pressure on Iran will force Iran to change its positions,” he said.
“The first resolution passed against Iran in the UN Security Council
will mean that relations between Iran and the United States will never
be improved,” he added. “Paths to that will be shut.”